Skip to main content
Expand AU Menu

Dispatches from the Campaign Trail


Public Affairs, School of
Kerwin Hall

Phone: (202) 885-2940 Graduate programs: Undergraduate programs:

Public Affairs, School of
4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016
Dispatches from the Campaign Trail

The Race to the Finish

Daniel Kuhn, SPA/MPP ’16

This morning we did exit polling at voting locations across New Hampshire on behalf of the Boston Globe. We spoke with voters about the issues important to them, who they voted for, and how they arrived to their decision. Check out what we learned about voters who had the most contact with the candidates of anyone in the country. AU students contributed the content to make this story possible. 

This is not Granite Staters' First Rodeo 

New Hampshire voters expect to meet the candidates, and they expect straight answers. There's not much that voters in New Hampshire can agree on, but one thing that they won’t tolerate is politicians acting like…well…politicians. 

There was a great moment during a town hall with Ohio Governor John Kasich at a school cafeteria. It exemplified New Hampshire voters more than anything I've seen. A woman stood up and spoke about the importance of funding for women's health. Her second question was a yes or no question about whether he would veto a budget over funding for Planned Parenthood. When he didn’t directly answer it at first, a man in the audience yelled “answer the question!” and a feeling of unrest broke out. You could cut the tension with a knife. You don’t get by with easy answers in New Hampshire. 

When the Primary Competes Against the Super Bowl 

The primary is everywhere. It dominates the state for weeks leading into the second week in February. Driving to an event, we heard back to back to back to back radio ads from the candidates...wait, was that the same narrator for all of them? 

But the Sunday before the Tuesday primary, it had to compete with the behemoth of the Super Bowl. It's an interesting to watch campaigns try and navigate the intrusion of the Super Bowl into the frenetic campaign schedule. It's something that must be managed carefully, of course, because turnout for the Super Bowl is typically much higher than at the polls. No doubt, campaigns are grateful the New England Patriots lost one game short of the Super Bowl, or they might have lost an entire day’s worth of campaigning time. 

No traditional events were planned during the big game, but candidates, like Carly Fiorina, did take advantage by hosting pre-game parties. Marco Rubio was the only candidate to hold a watch party. Some candidates who have tried to have 4 events per day, like Chris Christie and John Kasich (who finished tied with 190 total events, well ahead of third place Jeb at 111 among active candidates), held events dangerously close to kickoff, but had to scale back for a real American national holiday. 

Impact of Security on the Primary 

There's a big difference between events hosted by a front runner, or at least someone who acts like a front runner, and someone who is running a "comeback campaign." Front-runners are far more restrictive. They have larger crowds to manage, which can be expected for a candidate who has a great chance of winning. However, they also have layers of security to contend with. Right now, four candidates have Secret Service protection, with Bernie Sanders the new addition to a list that included Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Ben Carson. With protection comes complications in managing large crowds, making it difficult to move quickly or make quick adjustments to the schedule. 

With large crowds come long lines. Throw in a security screening that doesn’t exist at other candidates’ events, and it can cause delays, costing candidates valuable time, and forcing voters to stand in crowded gyms and cold warehouses even longer waiting for candidates to arrive. 

Dr. Carson has struggled to come to grips with his detail, and has reacted by adjusting his events due to the security presence. 

There is a positive psychological impact of walking into an event freely, and comfortably grabbing a seat. After an event, crowds can approach a candidate without a security detail freely and easily, without obstruction from Secret Service agents, who have the hardest job in the world. 

Is there an advantage to a security detail? Besides safety, of course, the accompaniment of ear-pieced, suited guards makes a candidate look like the real deal. Also, not much looks more presidential than a six or seven car motorcade escorting a candidate from place to place. 

What Warm Up Music Says About Candidates 

Warm-up music selection is an art, and what kind of music candidates play says a lot about them. Let’s finish up on a light note with a review of candidate warm-up music.

Fiorina – She had a heavy dose of Blacked Eyed Peas. At least three songs. She knows what she likes.

Bush – He stuck pretty squarely in the “bro-country” genre, a divisive sub-set of new age country music. He is trying to appeal to a younger crowd and create a “laid back good time” vibe.

Rubio – He played older country from at least a decade before Jeb’s music, like Alan Jackson. He is trying to establish himself as wise beyond his years; playing a classic that is still upbeat can give him a distinguished side. 

Kasich – He had an eclectic mix of pop, folk and country music, like Darius Rucker’s cover of “Wagon Wheel,” and Walk the Moon’s summer hit “Shut Up and Dance.” While at times out of place, it blends with the “positive by any means necessary” vibe of his campaign.

Hillary – She had most recent music of anybody, primarily top 40 songs by female artists, like Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song.” She’s celebrating girl power, while showing that she’s in touch with the music of the youth.

Bernie – Has included a dose of Simon and Garfunkel, reaching for songs that evoke nostalgia with deep meaning.

Trump – His music selection was all over the place. With Billy Joel and Elton John, people expected a dose of 70’s and 80’s classics. Then, with Beatles and the Rolling Stones, he reached earlier into the classic oldies. When an unrecognizable opera song comes on, the kind you’d expect to accompany the Bellagio Fountains, you remember that this is Trump: unconventional, doing whatever he likes, and going off script, not to be constrained by the limitations of most other candidates.